The Christmas is an apex moment for high-profile (and otherwise) roll outs, particularly for films in limited release. Always a favorite for a swath of cineastes (and otherwise) is Paul Thomas Anderson as well as Daniel Day-Lewis. The two have reunited for Phantom Thread, also starring Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps in a drama set in a post-war London fashion house. The Focus Features release is also supposedly Day-Lewis’ final big screen performance. Also on Christmas Monday, STXfilms/The Mark Gordon Company are opening Aaron Sorkin’s bio-drama Molly’s Game with Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner. Molly’s Game as well as Phantom Thread will go wide in January. Christmas Day doesn’t have a total monopoly on openers, however. Films opening in limited release this weekend include Well Go USA’s Korean fantasy-drama Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds, while Sony Pictures Classics is bowing Happy End, Oscar-nominee Michael Haneke’s drama centered on a bourgeois family aloof to the refugee crisis in their backyard.

Other high-profile openers this holiday weekend include Steven Spielberg’s The Post with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, which Fox is opening in limited runs before going wide. After a last-minute re-shoot for reasons all too well known by now, Sony opens All The Money In The World on Christmas day. Yash Raj will bow India’s Tiger Zinda Hai in three hundred-plus locations, while Vertical Entertainment opens Crooked House and Cohen Media Group take out the re-issue of The Two of Us.

Focus Features

Phantom Thread
Director-writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps
Distributor: Focus Features

Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth movie and his second time working with three-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis, whose second Academy Award was for Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Phantom Thread is Anderson’s first in England. “London spoke to both of us,” he said speaking of Day-Lewis. “I love it there and I speak English. I don’t speak French. We were excited learning loads about these figures who were less known. We wanted to make a point that it takes place after the Queen’s coronation and at the end of rationing.”

Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.

“We thought about doing this in the states as well,” said Day-Lewis, who along with Anderson and co-stars Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps took part in a pre-opening screening and Q&A at the DGA in New York earlier this month. “There was always that question of where this thing should be, but there was something fascinating to us about England emerging out of the war years and out of austerity. The way things developed in England was specific. The restrictions in society from [that era] were still there, but these designers flourished against the gates despite that.”

Talking about the project’s origins, Anderson teasingly tied in some of Phantom Thread’s plot, joking that he hadn’t been feeling well and noticed “a love and affection” from his wife he hadn’t seen in a while, adding: “So, I called Daniel to say, ‘I think I have a good idea for a movie…’ One thing lead to another and then we had fashion books all over our house and we kept talking, writing and then things kept going, going and going until it seemed impossible to stop. And we didn’t want to stop.”

Asked what drew him to the central character, Reynolds Woodcock, Day-Lewis quipped: “He’s just an old man and I just seem to fit the bill.” Lesley Manville, who plays his determined sister Cyril grew up nearby Day-Lewis in real life so the pair joked they were meant to play siblings. Vicky Krieps, who plays his love interest said that when she auditioned remotely via tape for the role, she didn’t realize what the project was for and who she’d be starring opposite.

“I related to the text, [but] for four days I kept thinking I need to make this tape,” said Krieps. “I got a response from my agent that the director [wanted my] phone number. I thought when I made the tape it was for a student film!”

Her on-stage admission drew Anderson’s immediate response: “The writing was that good!”

“Paul always puts himself into his films, but this especially so,” said Focus Features president of Distribution, Lisa Bunnell. “It’s a masterpiece that recalls one of Alfred Hitchcokc’s early films. We have screened it in a way ahead of its opening that reminds people of that old Hollywood magic.”

Focus Features is opening Phantom Thread on Christmas Day at the Arclight and Landmark in L.A. as well as Lincoln Square and Union Square in New York. The film will go nationwide January 19.

STXfilms/Mark Gordon Company

Molly’s Game
Director-writer: Aaron Sorkin
Writer: Molly Bloom (book)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp
Distributor: STXfilms

Bio-drama Molly’s Game closed out AFI Fest last month after debuting in Toronto in September. As it begins its roll-out Christmas Day, the feature has Golden Globe nominations for Jessica Chastain (Best Actress) and Aaron Sorkin (Best Screenplay).

STXFilms and The Mark Gordon Company’s Molly’s Game is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally was her criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey, who learned that there was much more to Molly than the tabloids led us to believe.

The film’s messaging was targeted to “topical events surrounding early morning news through airings on Today and Good Morning America, as well as cable news and late night, including Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and The Late Late Show with James Corden,” according to STXfilms, which is launching Molly’s Game in 250-plus locations across the top 40 markets in North America December 25.

“The chance to work with Aaron Sorkin and Jessica Chastain was incredibly exciting for us as a company looking to work with the best talent in the industry, especially since we can do it from a respectable price point,” commented STXfilms Chairman Adam Fogelson. “It is [a film that deserves] awards consideration, while also able to be successful at the box office. Critics and audiences responses have been great, and the Golden Globe nominations are gratifying.”

STXfilms acquired U.S. and Chinese distribution rights for Molly’s Game for $9M, and has concentrated on moviegoers 25 and up. The campaign also tapped into Sorkin’s considerable following, targeting his fans as well as fans of the film’s cast online and on social media, including Facebook and YouTube.

STXfilms will expand Molly’s Game Friday, January 5 to 1,500-plus locations. Added Fogelson: “We’ll launch on a platform at Christmas and the word of mouth from those core movie goers will drive us into the wider break in January.”

Well Go USA

Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds
Director: Kim Yong-Hwa
Cast: Ha Jung-Woo, Cha Tae-Hyun, Ju Ji-Hoon, Kim Hyang-Gi, Lee Jung-Jae, Kim Dong-Wook, Doh Kyung-Soo, Don Lee
Distributor: Well Go USA

Distributor Well Go USA has been tracking Korean drama-fantasy Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds for, “Quite some time,” according to company exec Dylan Marchetti. The film is based on a hugely popular web comic/webtoon with a sizable built-in audience.

“It’s a massive undertaking with a big heart and huge special effects budget, so we were elated to finally land the title,” noted Marchetti. “The film [opened] Thursday December 21 in Korea, and the anticipation level is so high that we didn’t want to delay bringing it to fans in North America. We’re focusing on the big cast, epic action, and inventive story in messaging both the Korean American audiences and genre fans for the initial release, but are planning to pop this out to crossover audiences as we get past the holidays.”

In Along With The Gods, firefighter Ja-hong is taken to the afterlife after dying unexpectedly by three guardians, where only after passing seven trials and proving he lived a noble life will he be able to reincarnate.

“It’s one of the busiest release weeks of the year, so we wanted to be sure to capitalize on that where we knew there would be demand that would feed word of mouth,” added Marchetti. “We’re releasing in 17 theaters in eight of the top Korean American markets on Friday — several theaters will have multiple screens of the film.”

Marchetti said that Korean titles have been showing a good track record on this side of the Pacific, including recent releases Train to Busan ($2.4M) and A Taxi Driver ($1.5M). He added: “We’re anticipating grosses in line with that on this title.”

Well Go USA will open Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds December 22 in the greater L.A. area at CGV Cinema and in Orange County at AMC Fullerton 30 and CGV Buena Park. In New York, it opens at AMC Empire 25 and AMC Loews Bay Terrace 6. The feature will also open locations in Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta and the Bay Area. It will expand to Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, D.C. and other cities January 5.

Said Marchetti: “This is a two-parter, and we’ll be bringing the second film, Along With the Gods: The Next 49 Days, to theaters this summer.”

Sony Pictures Classics

Happy End
Director-writer: Michael Haneke
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin, Franz Rogowski, Laura Verlinden
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Happy End didn’t make it on the short list of this year’s Best Foreign Language contenders, but it does reunite filmmaker Michael Haneke with Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant who starred in his 2012 feature Amour, which took home the Cannes Palme d’Or and received several Oscar noms including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The film won in the Best Foreign Language category that year.

Happy End is told through a bourgeois family living in Calais, France. Although they have been dealt their own series of setbacks, they pay little attention to the grim conditions in the refugee camps not far from their home.

Happy End was Austria’s Foreign Language entry this year. As it heads out to the U.S. box office, the film will have a steep climb to go if it’s to reach the grosses of Amour. That film took in $68,266 in three theaters when it opened stateside in mid-December, 2012, averaging $22,755. It went on to cume over $6.7M domestically.

SPC is opening at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Friday in New York as well as the Royal in Los Angeles.